Originally published on April 19, 2019 in The Daily Star.

By Denielle Cazzolla

Education today goes far beyond the “three R’s” — reading, writing and arithmetic.

Luckily, we’ve come far enough to realize that the three R’s really are an “r,” a “w” and an “a.”

There are also social studies and science at the core of learning standards. Beyond that there is foreign language, art, music, technology, business skills, drama, physical education … the list goes on.

In some schools, all of those subjects — and more — are taught in the classroom. But in many others, especially smaller schools like many in our area, the education in some come from clubs, groups, sports and other extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, when schools are facing budget crunches, many things beyond the core classes are seen as “extras.”

Usually the first things to go are field trips and cultural activities. The next are clubs, great places where students can explore their interests outside the walls of the classroom. Then, often, are arts and music. The final cuts usually are to sports programs.

It’s not likely, but in extreme budget cuts, students could be left with core classes and not much else as their school experience.

That is not a world in which I would want my children — or anyone else’s for that matter — to live.

School is the place where children can discover who they are, what they like to do, and what direction they want to take in their lives — as a vocation or avocation.

Our teen columnist Matthew Frederick last week questioned the emphasis on science, technology, education and math (better known as STEM) in schools today. I understand why this is happening. The United States has been middle-of-the-road when it comes to core education for decades. And the world is become a more technology-oriented place. STEM education is needed.

But so are history, art, music, sports, technical skills and more.

Boxing our kids into something they don’t enjoy or don’t excel at does a disservice to everyone. Unhappy or bored students can make frustrated teachers and exasperated parents.

If students realize they want to work more with their hands and enter the trades, let’s help them be the best they can be. Let’s nurture their artistic talents, if that is what they want to do. If a student excels in sports, we should encourage those skills. And if STEM-oriented learning is what excites a child, we should make sure there is the opportunity for that child to learn all he or she can.

That’s not to say students should do only what they like to do. It’s important to challenge kids and get them out of their comfort zones.

I encourage my kids to try different activities. Some they may find they like. Others they won’t. But if they aren’t exposed to them, how will they know?

The important thing is to have that opportunity and experience. Even though it is one of the smallest schools in the district, my children’s school offers a lot of options for the kids — many more than I had when I was attending the same school — inside and outside of the classroom. I’m glad to see my tax dollars go to support these experiences for my children and their schoolmates.

School budget season is right around the corner. I encourage everyone to look at the school budgets and what is included. Some schools may have to make hard decisions. A budget increase or an arts program cut? Will the technology classes be expanded? Will a sports team be cut? I would hope the taxpayers in our school districts take into account what is best for all students, and ensure a well-rounded education will be offered.

Denielle Cazzolla is editor of The Daily Star.

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